Mary Gilmore, AIA, NCIDQ is an emerging architect and interior designer who is actively engaged in both the profession and the community. Originally from northeast Ohio, Mary earned a trio of degrees from the University of Cincinnati: B.S. Arch, B.S. Interior Design, and Master of Architecture. As part of her Master’s thesis project, Mary moved to southeast India following the 2004 tsunami to research post-disaster recovery. She stayed on to lead the construction of a new community center. Upon graduation, Mary joined the Peace Corps and was stationed in Mali, West Africa. There she led a community through the design and construction of two new school buildings. Now working as an architect and interior designer at Campo Architects in New Orleans, Mary continues to be highly active in the community. She has served as a mentor in the ACE Mentor Program as well as NOMA’s Project Pipeline Program. In her third year on the AIA New Orleans executive board, Mary is currently serving as AIA Louisiana Delegate.
Why did you choose architecture as a profession?
I started school for Interior Design, but I was always drawn to the broader social impact that seemed possible through Architecture. Not one to ever quit anything, I decided to double-major and ended up becoming licensed in both fields. I love the power of architecture to impact lives, create joy, and even alter social perspectives.
What type of projects do you like to take on?
My favorite types of projects are ones that blend design and pedagogy. Whether it’s teaching a community in a developing country how to use a new technology, or mentoring students in New Orleans about the value of design thinking, there’s a great potential for empowerment through architecture. This is also apparent through historic renovation projects, where the buildings themselves can become a teaching tool about history through adaptive re-use.
Best project, most unique/favorite project?
The schoolhouse project in Mali is a definite favorite, because it accomplished so many goals simultaneously. Working together with another Peace Corps volunteer (who is now my husband) we raised all the funds for the project, taught members of the community new construction skills, introduced techniques for sustainable design, empowered women to take an active role in the project, and increased access to education for an underprivileged community, including female students who were not traditionally allowed to attend school. It was a win/win/win.
You can learn more about this project by watching this Pecha Kucha presentation: http://www.pechakucha.org/presentations/community-participation-and-architecture
Are you are currently or were recently involved in any community outreach projects?
I was one of the leaders on the team responsible for the 10 Years/10 Stories exhibit commemorating the 10th anniversary of hurricane Katrina. The exhibit highlighted representative examples of significant work and meaningful contributions by architects in New Orleans over the last 10 years, and also offered a look ahead to the future of the city. A huge component of the exhibit was engaging the public to grow awareness about the profession and I think we were very successful with that. The exhibit is now getting ready to travel to other cities to continue that outreach.
What is your most satisfying professional accomplishment?
Getting licensed in both Architecture and Interior Design was a goal of mine since finishing school, and it was a long journey to the finish line. Now that I’m done, my next goal is just to gain experience and refine my skills, while continuing to give back to the community and the profession.
What is one thing about your job people don’t expect or know about?
I wear many hats at my job, and play various roles on different projects. We do a lot of historic renovation projects at Campo, and the firm specializes in procuring historic tax incentives. I’m often involved in the initial historic research for a project all the way through orchestrating the tax credit application process. Also, Campo recently started offering Interior Design services, so on other projects I am playing the role of the ID department. On yet another project, I am coordinating construction administration. I like the variety; it keeps me on my toes.
What do you do after a hard day at work to unwind?
A practice that I picked up in India and continue today is Vinyasa Yoga. It’s a great way to clear your mind while getting a little exercise, and you can do it anywhere.
Do you have a business/creative role model? If so, who is it and why?
I really admire the creative cunning of Elon Musk, and his ability to constantly push the envelope of design while always maintaining an eye for business and profitability. He’s engaged a whole generation to think in a bigger, more innovative way about the environment and the possibilities for the future.
If you could have any other job what would it be?
I’m actually a big science fiction fan, and my dream job would be to design spaceships and futuristic cities for sci-fi movies. Either that or Secretary of State.